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How-to: Asparagus

Published May 6, 2024

Photo: David Todd McCarty/Unsplash

Asparagus: The first signal that winter is over and green vegetables are on the way. They’re available year-round from warmer climates, but true local or regional asparagus are worth the wait.

How to Prepare Asparagus

Snap off the bottom of each spear; it will naturally break in the right place. I recommend peeling asparagus (use a vegetable peeler) to remove the fibrous skin from just below the tip to the base; this step isn’t necessary if the spears are pencil thin.

Best cooking methods: steaming, sautéing, roasting, grilling

When are they done? When you can easily insert a skewer or thin-bladed knife into the thickest part of the stalk. Undercooked asparagus is crisp; overcooked asparagus is mushy.

Other vegetables you can use in place of asparagus: green or wax beans, sugar snap peas, broccoli raab

Steamed Asparagus

Photo: Getty Images

Anything you can do with green beans or broccoli you can do with asparagus. Otherwise, here are the most basic techniques. To partially cook asparagus ahead of time, use one of the methods here and cook until a smidge less tender than desired, then shock, drain well, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Finish by heating the asparagus through with a little butter or olive oil, or try one of the ideas that follow.


Roasted Asparagus, 3 Ways

Photo: Getty Images

The recipes below assume 1 1/2 to 2 pound of asparagus, which will feed four, but adjust up or down as necessary. Both thin or thick asparagus will work here; it’s really just a matter of preference. I prefer crisp-tender asparagus to soft, but either way, it’s done when you can pierce the thickest part of a spear with a sharp knife without much resistance. This might take less than five minutes for very slender asparagus, twice that for thick ones. The first recipe is the main recipe, then the two that follow are variations. All the ingredients are in bold, so you can easily see what you’ll need. Salt and pepper are assumed.

  1. Roasted Asparagus with or Without Bacon
    Heat the oven to 450°F. Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons olive oil (more if you don’t use bacon) and 4 ounces bacon, chopped (optional) in a roasting pan. Roast, turning the asparagus once or twice, until done. Garnish: grated Parmesan.
  2. Roasted Asparagus with Carrots, Sesame, and Soy
    Skip the bacon. Substitute sesame oil for the olive oil, and add 2 thinly sliced carrots to the roasting pan. After 5 minutes of roasting, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. When asparagus is done, drizzle with soy sauce and toss. Garnish: crumbled toasted nori.
  3. Roasted Asparagus with Blue Cheese and Bread Crumbs
    After 5 minutes of roasting, turn the asparagus and top with 1 ⁄ 2 cup fresh bread crumbs and 1 ⁄ 4 cup crumbled blue cheese. Continue to roast without turning until the asparagus is done. Turn on the broiler and broil until the tops brown, about 1 minute.

Salmon and Asparagus with Buttery Bread Crumbs

Photo: Jim Henkens

Since wild salmon fillets and medium or thin asparagus spears take the same time to broil, they’re a natural sheet-pan dinner. Another thing they have in common? They’re even better with butter and crunchy bread crumbs. A simple salad is all you need on the side or maybe nothing at all.


Stir-Fried Asparagus

Photo: Aya Brackett

Stir-fries are among the best ways to use those odd bits of vegetables languishing in your fridge. Just remem-ber: The smaller you cut them, the more quickly they’ll become tender. And if you’ve got some stock handy, use that instead of some or all of the water.


Asparagus with Eggs and Parmesan

Photo: Instagram/@slimmingeats

I’ve had variations of this spring creation in a number of places. In Holland, they use ham; in Italy, they use Parmesan; in Germany, they use both. The key ingredients, however, are good asparagus and fried eggs, and the results are as delicious as they are easy. The combination of melted butter and runny egg yolk mimics Hollandaise sauce, though I think browning the butter yields a more flavorful result.


Chicken Roulades with Goat Cheese and Asparagus

Photo: Aya Brackett

The French—and fancy—word is roulade, and it describes a practical way to assemble and cook multiple ingredients simultaneously. The presentation is always impressive. Use the leftovers for sandwiches.


Double-Quinoa Casserole with Asparagus and Dill

Photo: Kerri Conan

Vegan whole grain casseroles are the teenagers in the extended family of classic gratins. They’re hip but not too hippie, and rich in all the best ways. Especially when you use light and fluffy quinoa and finish the top with a layer of seasonal vegetables and herbs. And to take the recipe over the top, while the casserole bakes, pop some of the quinoa to pass at the table for last minute crunch.


Asparagus and Sesame Salad

This is one of the simplest, quickest, and best asparagus recipes I know. Thinner asparagus works better here, but be careful not to overcook the spears. Trim a bunch of asparagus, then cut the spears on the bias. Cook them quickly in a bit of vegetable oil for a minute or two, or until they turn bright green (you can also blanch them quickly in boiling water). Toss the cooked spears with a tablespoon or two of sesame oil, a splash of rice vinegar, a drizzle of soy sauce, and a sprinkle of sugar if you like; garnish with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions.

— Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express


Grilled Vegetable Caesar

Photo: Aya Brackett

A salad that’s definitely all about the dressing, which is capable of making grass clippings taste good. I make this flavorful egg-free version frequently, whether I’m eating vegan or not. (Hint: Capers contribute brininess.)